On the tour, the crest of Henderson Mountain Road as it crosses through Salacoa Highlands had one spot about 100 yards long where drivers would need to avoid a lengthy icy spot in one lane. And a section of Old Grandview Road was still mostly covered with a slush/ice mix. Collis noted that the entire tour was conducted in two-wheel drive. It was completed with no slipping or sliding.
Collis said crews had worked long hours all last week, but the decision was made to end the snow/ice patrols Friday due to a combination of exhausted personnel, low supplies, economics, the threat of a still more winter weather ahead and predicted rising temperatures on Saturday and Sunday.
Collis said by Friday most roads were in passable condition and they decided to leave whatever was left to be handled by the warmer weekend.
“With more winter weather forecast for later this week, I thought I had better let the crews have some time off,” he said. “Many of the guys worked 70 hours between the previous Sunday when the snows started and Friday.”
Records from the road department showed the 19 employees logged a total of 1,166 hours last week.
Collis notes that it’s somewhat stressful work as their equipment isn’t “magical” – they too are subject to the hazards of driving on frozen roads. Collis himself had a motor-grader spin in a full 360 circle near the intersection of Highway 515 and Highway 53, luckily causing no damage.
Aside from manpower, the salt/gravel being spread on roads does get expensive. He said they had almost gone through their winter supply of slat/gravel mixture when they quit on Friday. In all 448 (50 pound) bags of the special salt mixture and 324 tons of gravel were spread last week. He said they have resupplied with more of the salt mixture, which will keep until whenever it is needed, should Old Man Winter not blow through again this year.
Collis said economics does figure into the decision. With the weather expected to warm up Collis said he didn’t see the reason to keep dumping the mixture on roads.
However, Collis said he was surprised how long the slushy conditions have hung on.
Collis said he felt his department had done an exceptional job of keeping the county moving despite the snow. He said it’s a challenge here with the elevation as well as the shady, narrow mountain roads. Although in this storm, Pickens may have fared better than county to the south. “I’ll take our snow over the ice they had anytime,” Collis said.
For those who question whether the county treated their road, Collis said proof of the work is be found in the residue of fine gravel left along the centerlines of many roads.
There were two issues where Collis said he has heard complaints that the county simply couldn’t address. First, he said there is just nothing that can be done to dirt roads covered in snow. Scraping or putting salt onto them will lead to even worse conditions. He said the calcium carbonate mixture applied to melt snow on asphalt will not only melt the surface snow on dirt lanes but will be absorbed into the dirt underneath and turn it into a mushy, boggy mess that is impassable for much longer than the original snow. Furthermore, the scrap blades often cut into the roadbed on dirt roads and tear them up.
“It’s better to just leave them hard-packed,” He said.
Second, Collis said his department fielded a few calls from residents on private roads who had seen them go past their intersections and wanted their roads scraped as well, but county equipment can not be used on any private road. Private roads in Pickens County are marked with white road signs, rather than the typical green.
Collis said they worked almost all the roads in the county, with three snow plows and two motor graders. He said each piece had covered up 190 miles of roadways on some eight-hour shifts.
They started with the roads that see the most use and then work out into the secondary roads and then public subdivision roads.
Despite the long hours and tough conditions, they had only one accident with minor damage to a snowplow that took it out of service for a matter of hours.
He said many of his guys really went beyond the call of duty, with the term public servant being stretched by the dedication and extent of what they did.
“If we had someone who was truly stuck and needed medication or had some emergency we’d get them out, even if the guys had to go in there on foot and carry them,” he said.